What Means Expendable: The Strange Case of Jon Dette

Jon DetteSo it looks like Dave Lombardo is out of Slayer. Again. It seems he was dismissed from the band after investigating their finances and wondering why he was not getting paid. Interestingly, Slayer frontman Tom Araya was also part of this fact-finding mission, yet he was allowed to keep his job. While there are many layers to this, to me it reeks of a double standard for drummers, who are increasingly treated as an easily replaced commodity among heavy bands. Which leads me to the dark and mysterious past of Lombardo’s current replacement, Mr. Jon Dette.

Who the shit is Jon Dette, you ask? Good question. During the mid-1990s, thrash bands were shedding members left and right, particularly drummers. Some started playing alternative rock, some went to rehab, some just quit music entirely. The remaining members still needed to pay the bills, and therefore it was necessary to keep the band going, regardless of who was still in the lineup. This created an urgent need for replacement drummers, a need which was generally filled by one of the following two people: Paul Bostaph (ex-Forbidden) and Jon Dette, who originally came from the band Evildead.

Between 1994-1998, it was fucking impossible to keep track of which bands these two guys were playing with. Bostaph played with more bands overall, but also tended to quit them very quickly, which put Dette in the position of replacing Bostaph more than once. Dette kept the throne warm for Bostaph in Slayer, briefly, while Bostaph pursued his earth-shatteringly successful project The Truth about Seafood (nice career move, dude). And the two of them actually replaced each other several times in the ’90s-era lineup of Testament.

Eventually, the dust settled. Bostaph returned to Slayer and stayed put until Lombardo returned in 2003, after which he did an album with Exodus, and then went back to Testament (again). After his brief tenure with Slayer in 1996, though, Dette’s trail goes cold. And unlike Bostaph, who appeared on some of thrash metal’s lesser albums, Dette made no studio appearances at all during this time. In fact, other than a live album with Testament, Live at the Fillmore, there is almost no record of Jon Dette ever being involved with two of thrash’s most heavyweight bands. As the new millennium dawned, most metal bands cashed in on nostalgia and attempted to reunite their original lineups. In this reunion-centric era, there was no place for professional replacements like Dette.

Other than a few small projects, things were pretty quiet for Dette until just last month. It was announced that Anthrax had hired him to fill in for Charlie Benante on an Australian tour, while Benante sorts out whatever his problem is. Conveniently, one of the Australian dates is the Soundwave Festival, which also features the newly drummer-less Slayer. Guess who’s already in the building and knows a bunch of Slayer songs? You guessed right. Given that Slayer originally fired Dette over “personal differences,” I can only imagine that the current situation is pretty tense for all involved.

Could this be a new beginning for Dette? Perhaps a shot at appearing on a studio album, and proving once and for all what he’s capable of? Who knows. Given all the outrage over Lombardo’s firing, Slayer might just take him back (where the fuck were all you people in 1994?!). And I highly doubt that anyone will ever play drums on an Anthrax record other than Benante. Regardless of where this may lead, 2013 marks the comeback of one of metal’s ultimate replacement musicians, and one of the best drummers you’ve probably never heard.

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